Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Cruelty of Capital Clearances

THE front-page story of yesterday's Daily Mirror gave a true
picture of the brutal reality behind words like "regeneration"
applied in our cities, and claims by politicians and tame
academics in recent years that "the class struggle is over" (they

mean "and you lot lost!").
The Mirror's Nick Sommerlad drew our attention to the Hoxton area of London, traditionally a poor neighbourhood though not too far from the bustle of finance and the City where fortunes are made and gambled, and banker's bonuses rise.

As older small businesses make way for new office blocks and the fashionable arty crowd flash their money in restaurants and clubs, Hoxton has been on the up, but not for working people living there. 

Sommerlad says up to 90 households on the New Era estate, some of whom have lived there for many years, fear they could be forced out by a massive rent rise.

Built in the 1930s, the estate looks pretty ordinary, and has a long history of providing affordable housing, but
it has been taken over by a consortium which has already raised rents by ten per cent in the past year and plans further increases to bring rents up to "market values".

Tory MP Richard Benyon, is a director of his family’s 300-year-old Englefield Estate, which owns 20,000 acres of land from Hampshire to Scotland. Its portfolio includes the 250-property Benyon Estate in East London which is now a “minority shareholder” in the flats on the New Era Estate. His brother Edward Benyon confirmed the family was part of the consortium during a meeting with tenants, and said besides raising rents they want to build more flats on the estate. .

The Mirror quotes Debra Cox, a teaching assistant, who has lived there for 18 years, as saying: “This is social cleansing – this has always been a form of social housing and they just want rid of us.  I have been to the council and was told we don’t have a chance of being rehoused.”

Debra told the new landlord: “You do realise that as soon as you put them on at market value, whenever that may be, myself, my husband and my 18-year-old daughter will be homeless?”
Her husband Gary, 50, fumed: “My wife had a seizure during the night brought on by the stress.
"My wife is ill and I am going to lose my f*****g flat because of you and your mates.”

While rents and house prices have been soaring, particularly in London, the Con Dem coalition has capped housing benefits, knowing this means working class people are being forced out of the capital.

The Mirror says an investigation with the GMB union earlier this year revealed Benyon’s £110million estate has received hundreds of thousands of pounds of housing benefit – despite the MP attacking the “something for nothing” welfare state. "On top of Mr Benyon’s haul from tenants and the taxpayer, his family farms received more than £2million in EU subsidies since 2000."


Apparently the Newbury MP says he is seeking legal advice about the report.
Let him.


Although a Labour councillor in Islington expressed concern over what was happening in Hoxton, it is not clear what, if anything, the council intends to do about it.  Meanwhile some Tory councils like Westminster and Wandsworth have notoriously had their own policies of clearing working people from properties and estates, and Hammersmith Tories wanted to get rid of council housing. 
 At the trades union councils' conference in Cardiff on June 14, speaking in support of a motion on housing, I defended a clause at the end which worried some delegates, calling for decriminalisation of squatting. Reminding conference of the big squatting movement just after the war, when homeless families took over luxury mansions as well as disused army camps, I said the Tories knew their policies would cause more homelessness, and that is why they have made squatting a criminal offence for the first time in centuries. Sadly, far from opposing this, leading Labour MPs have said the law should be extended to cover business premises.

The resolution was passed, complete with the call for decriminalising squatting.

A young worker I know had this to say on the subject the other day: 
I remember the last time I moved to London. I was skint, jobless and without a place to stay, but a mate put me up in a squat he was living in at the time, and when that squat closed, another mate kindly put me up in his squat, and so it developed that I ended up squatting in empty houses all over East and North East London for the best part of a year. At the time, that was legal of course, and you didn't see that many rough sleepers on the streets of London.

In fact, I remember a mate telling me at the time that basically, most medium to long term rough sleepers in London were folk with serious drug and/or mental problems, because it really wasn't that hard to find an hostel or an empty house no less. I believed him, because it made sense.

Five years later, I'm walking through Brent Cross after the nightshift, and I spies a family spending the night in an underpass, with two kids. Five years later, they've banned squatting, at the same time as they've introduced the bedroom tax, unleashed a mass wave of sanctions on dole claimants, cut benefits and cut council funding. And that's what you end up with, in the world's financial capital, the seat of a once great empire. Children sleeping rough. I remember seeing a propaganda poster in humble Cuba back in the day. It said, '350,000 children are sleeping rough tonight, all over the world. Not one of them is Cuban'. You can draw whatever conclusions you like from that, but what a Great country this Britain is, eh?

I hope there is more resistance to evictions and support for squatting empty properties in future. I say taking away social housing to make profits is theft. Forcing people from their homes, or denying anyone a roof over their head, is violence, whatever the law says. And if someone hits you, you have a right to hit back. . 

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